Chapter Seventy Three
Atlas, Pilot, Atlas, then Phaedos, by rhetoric
Word Count: 2,073
Her chambers were silent. Beyond the newly replaced door, she could hear Phaedos shift every few moments, the scrape of his shoes on the stone floor, the rustle of his jacket as he crossed his arms. She ran her fingertip delicately over the touchpad on her laptop. She’d been scouring the internet for days, it seemed, in search of any inkling, any trace, of what she had come to the surface for.
There had to be someone, she thought, even just one.
She heard Elseron’s voice down the hall, the hard thudding of his steps. He was not casually making his way down the hall, there was something wrong. He was rushing.
She closed the laptop and set it on the dresser table beside the bed, rising from the comfortable mess of pillows and blankets. She pulled a clean white silken robe over her shoulders and knotted its belt loosely at her waist. Beyond the wall, she heard him.
“Phaedos, go with Dante. He will explain on the way.”
There was a brief moment of tension in the hallway. She could feel it twisting in her gut. What was the problem? Then she heard footsteps, two sets, rushing off to the back door of the mansion. Where were they going?
She knew when Elseron’s hand touched the doorknob. She could see it, as if with her own two eyes. The way his arm extended outward, the world around him slightly blurred; how his fingers stretched out and wrapped around the cold brass. She blinked, and he was in the doorway.
She opened her mouth to speak, to ask him what was going on, but his voice broke the stillness first. “Fenrir’s found us; there are Lycans prowling the border. We’ve been betrayed.”
Her heart lunged into her throat. Betrayed; it was such a dirty word.
Hundreds of questions sprung to life in her mind, bursting forth from her subconscious thoughts to the forefront of her attention. He shook his head, as if he could hear her.
“Of course I can hear you,” he said, continuing on without giving her time to process his words, “Phaedos and Dante are on their way to control the situation. When I receive the word, we will leave and find a Gatekeeper. Pack your things.”
He was at the window by then, his hand hovering over the hilt of his axe. His iceberg eyes, frosty with determined focus, scanned the yard behind the glass. She could see him working through the situation in his mind.
She began to pack.
Pilot smiled at her as she lingered over him, her arms straddling the recliner he was in, her lips a fraction of an inch over his. He moved suddenly, scooping her up gracefully in his arms and carrying her to the balcony; she laughed as he did so, and it echoed in the small, gritty room. The sound melded with his heartbeat and he couldn’t tell them apart. He set her on the precipice of the balcony wall, her feet dangling out over the open air. She leaned back against his chest, moving his arms for him to wrap around her waist, his chin resting on the top of her head.
For a long while, they admired the view. They were on the edge of the city; before them and directly below were fellow skyscrapers and businesses, but beyond them it was open fields and thick woodlands. The sun crossed the gap, illuminating the windows and crevices of the city, burning up the golden wheat fields and adding haunting shadows to the forest.
“When?” They hadn’t been discussing anything, but he knew what the question was in reference to.
“Soon,” he said, staring out at the mid-day sun.
“I’m starting to feel impatient,” she admitted, her tone soft – practically inaudible as the wind picked up and carried her words away.
“You know I would never stop you, even if it wasn’t the right time.” He squeezed her tightly for a minute, enjoying the warm smell of her hair.
“I know,” she said.
A scream tore through the mansion; it crashed into Atlas’ chest with a fury and a misery that she had never felt before. It was a child’s scream.
She turned to her Guardian, her eyes wide and panicked, “Elseron!” It was a desperate plea, a cry for help that she hadn’t intended. He understood.
“I will be back,” he said, brushing a strong hand against her cheek as he bolted from her chambers and down the labyrinthine hallways.
She stood in the middle of her chambers, suddenly feeling claustrophobic and paranoid. The room felt smaller, though she knew it to be large and spacious. The silken bed sheets and enormous dresser mirror seemed to be crowding in on her, her reflection was pale and disheveled. Her robe hung off one shoulder, revealing the narrow line of a sleeping gown strap. She felt an overwhelming need to dress, and instead of questioning it, she gave in.
Instead of a dress, as was her usual, she opted for her yoga shorts and fitted t-shirt that she often used in her training exercises with Phaedos. She cinched the knot for her tennis shoes just as her door opened once again. Lifting her gaze, she expected to see Elseron.
Instead, Elve let herself into Atlas’ chambers with a sly smirk and a malicious twinkle to her emerald eyes. “Afternoon, dearest Queen,” she purred.
The room darkened, and Atlas realized the fire was going out. She wanted to rekindle it, suddenly less than comfortable with being in a somewhat dark room with Elve.
There were no vampires hiding in her shadows, ready to pounce; and this realization struck her with a profound unsettling. She wanted the beast to have her back. She wanted her god standing in her doorway, taught and silent and merciless. She wanted the comfort of his darkness nearby.
She thought of his sapphire eyes and suddenly, everything changed.
She rose from her seat and strode over to the fireplace casually, as if Elve’s presence didn’t set her nerves on edge. The hardest part was disguising the subtle quiver to her hands. “What is it, Elve? I’m busy.”
She stirred the embers until they sparked to life. She added another couple logs and poked at them.
There was blood everywhere.
Their scouting mission had not gone as well as it could have, but Phaedos knew better than to ever expect anything to go that well. They’d left the mansion armed, that was all he had needed to know.
He never went anywhere armed unless he was expecting to have to use the weaponry at his disposal.
They had managed to track a group of the Lycans to the west wall of the mansion. There were a ridiculous number of them; the group they had found was over thirty in number, and Dante had smelled other groups in different directions.
They didn’t have enough men to track them all. He had radioed in to tell the Atlantean Guards to quadruple forces in all wings, but he didn’t know what else he could do. He hoped Elseron was paying attention.
Phaedos ducked an oncoming attack – the Lycan overshot and swung himself around with the momentum of his punch, and Phaedos kicked him in the knee. The crack was enough to tell him the Lycan would not be getting up any time soon, but it wasn’t enough. As the beast went down, half-shifted into wolf form, he supposed so the healing would be faster, Phaedos brought his knee up and slammed it into the Lycan’s jaw.
He watched teeth go flying and vanish into the roots and foliage of the forest floor.
He slid his hunting knife from its sheath on his back and brought it down in one strong motion, slicing clean through the Lycan’s spinal column and severing its head from its body.
He kicked the body over, no longer having any interest in it. His eyes scanned the nearby area for the hulking bear form of his only ally in the woods. He didn’t see Dante, but he could hear him. He followed the roaring deeper into the forest.
It wasn’t long before he found the bear. Ripping through two already-shifted wolves, one on each side; his giant paws slicing them into chunks; it seemed they were the last of the more-than-thirty group. Phaedos smiled. It was nice to see a job well done.
Just as Dante’s eerily yellow eyes met Phaedos’, the strangest thing began to happen.
It started as a tingling in his spine, it slithered up his nervous system until it reached the base of his skull. It began to burn; a white-hot heat that felt as if it were searing his flesh, melting his bones. He shut his eyes, biting back a growl of pain. He felt his knees hit the floor of the forest.
Panic rushed through him, pure and unadulterated. He wondered if he would fall in the same inglorious, humiliating way Achilles had. One tiny weakness, exploited. But the pain had no source.
He could feel the breeze stirring his hair, prickling against his skin like needles.
It was then that he heard it, loud and triumphant and ethereal; a heartbeat that was not his own, stuttering with panic and desperation. He could taste her, then, in the air – sharp but delicate, like a perfume enjoyed on the tongue. He opened his eyes and lunged to his feet, shoving Dante’s hand away.
“We have to go back,” he said, over his shoulder, as he took off down the path to the mansion. It took him minutes to reach the mansion, he pushed himself harder than he ever had – slamming his steps into the dirt, propelling himself forward by sheer will and physics. His speed thwarted nature, thwarted gravity and time.
He didn’t bother with the front door; choosing instead to go directly for the window of Atlas’ chambers. He leaped through it cleanly, the glass cracking and shattering upon impact before raining down like invisible splinters all around him. He rolled until he found his footing.
He rose to his feet, not even brushing off the shards of glass that covered him. He met Elve’s stunned emerald eyes with his own dangerous, unearthly sapphire ones.
“Phaedos,” Atlas said, breathless, her heartbeat racing madly in her chest.
Elve’s arm quivered as she held the pistol, her trigger finger twitching nervously. She couldn’t decide whom to aim the weapon at. Phaedos did not have such a dilemma.
In the fluid motions of a man that knows the full use of a second, he un-holstered his twin .44s from their side holsters beneath his jacket and leveled them between the eyes of the two foolish Lycan’s standing behind Elve. Pulling the trigger was not a question, it did not cause him to pause or think. He simply pulled, and the Lycans hit the ground.
He smiled at Elve, and it was dark and tainted – the kind of smile the devil himself might give before one signed his soul over.
“You are not mine to kill,” he said, and lowered his aim to target her shoulder.
He pulled the trigger once more, and Elve screamed. He knew her kind; the true lady, he let her fall to the ground in a crumpled, untidy heap.
Women like her fainted before they even felt the pain.
He turned to face Atlas and for the first time he felt an ounce of regret. Blood splatters littered her face and clothes. Her chest rose and fell unevenly with her breath. She turned her honey eyes to him and the world stopped.
They moved simultaneously.
She watched as he holstered his guns, moving across the distance to meet her in the middle of the room. He didn’t speak, didn’t ask permission. He reached out for her, his fingertips digging into her hips until she was certain there would be bruises in the morning.
She let him, ignoring the minor pain to looking up to his face as he crushed his mouth to hers. For an instant, everything faded into white-noise. Her heartbeat slowed. She could taste blood on his lips. Her fingers found his hair and she drew him closer.
He pulled back, grabbing her hand and tugging her across the rest of the room to the shattered window.
“We have to go,” he said, “right now.”
*author note: this is totally unedited. off to watch sailor moon with my roommate, then i will edit. :)